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Forgotten and Ignored: The Shadow Army Awaits Deployment

Afghan contractors discuss road building with U.S. soldiers (photo: ISAF Media via Flickr)

I was taken to task for allegedly ignoring the role of military-industrial complex corporations in my recent post about the decision-making process leading up to Tuesday’s anticipated announcement regarding U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Concern about corporate interests is well-placed, but it’s only a portion of the picture. Contractors have been a nagging problem since the U.S. began military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. With a current ratio of nearly two contractors to every soldier, the immediate problem is the number of the non-military personnel — a virtual shadow army — we are about to deploy in an escalation in Afghanistan, and the one still on the ground in Iraq.

Coincidentally, Monday was the deadline which House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Eldolphus Towns set for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to report the number, size, and details of contracts awarded for work being performed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Towns’ letter is dated November 3, giving Gates nearly a month to get his hands around these numbers and report them.

Towns has even allowed Gates to report the numbers from the Department of Defense’s records without commenting in his letter about the rather disconcerting numbers Towns has already seen based on reports from the General Accounting Office and the Commission on Wartime Contracting.

The CWC, a bipartisan entity authorized by and reporting to Congress, reported a wide range of numbers depending on the tracking source. The DOD’s Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) reported 160,000 contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and several other smaller and less active arenas this summer. However the U.S. Army Central Command’s quarterly census reported a much different number — 242,000 contractors, with much of the data gathered by hand rather than through reports. As the CWC noted, that’s a difference of roughly 80,000 between the two tallies.

Although CENTCOM’s census doesn’t include contractors working for Department of State or the Agency for International Development (USAID) and SPOT does not account for foreign nationals, it’s generally believed that 80,000 is still too broad a spread in numbers and cannot account accurately for the difference in contractors between the two systems.

It’s not exactly chump change we’re talking about when we can’t confirm how many contractors are working for DOD; based on U.S. experience in Iraq, the cost of private security contractors are roughly equivalent to U.S. soldiers, and the cost of a soldier in theater ranges between $500,000 and $1,000,000 each, depending on which area of the world and which department’s estimates you use. Using the high end of 80,000 contractors unaccounted for, well, you do the math.

When President Obama makes his announcement Tuesday, you can do the math again in your head. For every soldier he says we should muster out to Afghanistan, you can estimate at least one support person — most likely a contractor — and at least $500,000 per head.

And of course, every single contractor works for a corporation, some of which are either solid members of the military-industrial complex, being subsidiaries of other larger firms, or firmly connected to the same through a web of contracts and relationships.

Now…would you like to tell me again that I ignored the military-industrial complex corporations? Why not watch and see tomorrow night, Wednesday and beyond who really does ignore the shadow army we’ll be deploying?

[photo: Local contractors in Afghanistan discuss road building with U.S. soldiers (source: ISAF Media via Flickr)]

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Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, FDL community member since 2005, geek since birth.

Fan of science and technology, wannabe artist, decent cook, successful troublemaker and purveyor of challenging memetics whose genetics may be only nominally better.

Assistant Editor at Firedoglake and Editor at The Seminal.